Saturday, December 14, 2002

I sent an invitation to Alfred Drake, another UC Irvine graduate. He's a Victorianist with training in critical theory who maintains a web archive of Victorian first editions.

Friday, December 13, 2002

OK, Greg, so you've convinced me. I looked at the two websites you listed, and I have to agree that my idea of the computer as medium has been limited by the notion of language -- either language as it is traditionally spoken or written, or, at its furthest reaches, computer language. I must see the gallery show mentioned on while I'm in NYC.

Levy's alphabet project raises the problem of language as a shared convention. While it's amusing to create a typeface based on your signature (mine turned out to be a series of dots and dashes a little more understated than what I'd envisioned, the product of an alien culture capable of very fine distinctions), and his work is certainly art in the conceptual tradition, it doesn't really get at my personal obsession -- how language changes diachronically as a result of individual creativity rather than as a mass shift that can be expressed as an equation or series of equations. This problem of creative change probes at the limits of structural linguistics and the literary and philosophical movements it spawned: if we grant that language and culture, broadly defined, are conventional and arbitrary systems, then how do we account for meaningful change? More importantly, how do we bring it about? This is both an aesthetic question (what am I doing when I write a poem? To what degree is it more "original" than that ghastly online thing that writes them for you?) and a political one (how does that which is unintelligible under current ideological systems become "real" to the people who operate within them? Or, to put it in more concrete terms, when an admirer of the Unibomber videotapes himself cutting off his hand in protest and mails the tape to the FBI, how do we read his act as a political statement rather than sheer, meaningless psychosis? Or, on a simpler level, how do we interpret Marilyn Manson's onstage self-mutilation without simply pathologizing it?). These questions concern the border between the incoherent (and thus invisible) and gestures to which social meaning accretes.

Poetry is the simultaneous preservation and destruction of language, just as irony is the unity of mystification and self-consciousness.

You can quote me on that.

I am going to try to add a colleague here at ERAU, also a comparatist.
Hi, I'm Pete. I wanted to put a pointer here to a page on my wiki: IntroductionToBlogging.
Inviting others to join

Sure. I was imagining this blog as to be a sandbox to let people try blogging rather than a topic-focused blog. But the whole point is to go with the flow, right? So if this turns into a discussion on these topics temporarily or permamently, why not?

I've made you and administrator. So you should be able to see/click the "Team" icon in your menu and from that screen invite other people to join. Use the "new person" option. You'll see it. Or call for help.
Jennifer, you truly catch on quickly and take things interesting directions. I want to whine for the moment about how this particular channel of communication, as it is configured, makes it difficult for me to interspace my replies to your observations. But, alas, each form has its optimizations and limitations.

Communities are dismayingly self-policing. Electronic communities, in part because the technology and other aspects serve as gates and limiters, can often create further self-policing optimizations. But e-communities are invulnerable, just surprising. And selecting the right group and goal (as it seemed you did in your little experiment) makes a difference, too. Teaching is about creating a framework for learning. You seem to get that and innately bring it to other venues where it works equally as well.

We are pretty much in agreement, then, about mediums. I'd like to walk through these terms in detail with you. The computer *is* a new medium and I *will* show you that. However, you are also right in your observation of most current uses of computer technology -- it is just mixing media with new facility. And while that is pretty cool (and very powerful and even profound), it is not that which describes the new media. In my opinion, John Maeda ( and his students like Golan Levy ( are the people who get computational MEDIA. The Internet and the Web are still pretty young Technologies and as mediums only in potential, I think.

Your library comments regarding circulating libraries makes me wonder about comparing those developments to proprietary v. open source computer code. Very interesting lead.

You aren't the only poet I know who worries about the diachronic change in language...As if someone is fucking with your printing photographs on paper that fades after a few years.

Actually, Greg, after reading your email I realized that Georgia Tech has and uses a wiki for classes to develop group projects. They spoke of it as a sort of simplified way to create a web page, but I'm pretty sure it was what you describe. I never got involved because a local lecturer ran the server and it was often down; also, I had a creepy feeling about students being able to edit each other's work freely. Rationally I know that communities very quickly develop conventions and protocols for such activities, but the impulse for control is very strong among teachers. When we ran class bulletin boards (essentially a way to make homework public, use it to create a class discussion, and implement a form of peer grading, as opposed to its traditional use as a very limited dialog with me) this was a concern. The results were fascinating, however, particularly when I explicitly invited students to write ironic posts and offered extra credit for using emoticons and other popular irony-control devices ironically. Two discoveries: shared homework creates esprit de corps, and electronic communities are almost dismayingly self-policing.

Incidentally, I agree completely with your response to my cranky Luddite remarks about computers not being a medium; literary scholars have a pretty good vocabulary to distinguish, say, technology from medium from genre from mode, but it has never been entirely precise, and computers reveal the stress marks much as the printing press did. And of course the printing press created new genres: the broadside, the caricature, newspapers, folio editions, pamphlets, and so on. They also made new methods of circulation possible. Before the printing press, books were either individual property in much the way that original art is now, or they were physically chained to carrels in libraries. You might say that until the renaissance, all research was archival research. I'm not exactly sure when the circulating library developed, but I know they weren't commonly used in Great Brittain until the early 19th century. Even then, many important books of the era were sold through private subscription to individuals (usually members of the so-called Upper Ten Thousand) rather than freely on the shelves of a bookstore, and only the wealthy owned books.

So computer technology definitely can create genres (I'm sure you could name five off the top of your head); the question is, does it create media or a medium? I think not. Technology can create media (photography and film come to mind), but I don't see signs that computers have given us more than the power to mix media relatively easily (through, for example, your photo-commentary software). My position here isn't immutable, and it may result from technological ignorance. Teach me if you can.

A persistent pedantic worry: who will police the grammar and spelling? Good God, this could speed up the pace of diachronic change in written language! We'd better stop immediately, before the apostrophe either becomes obsolete or proliferates beyond control.

Can I invite people to join? If so, how do I do it? I'd at least like to invite people who can bring other historical and theoretical perspectives (a medievalist, for example, and a friend who maintains searchable electronic archives of Victorian first editions).

Thursday, December 12, 2002

My first newbie will be Jennifer Thompson. I just sent her the invitation.
All right! I'm creating a blog to show my friends about blogs. What could be easier? Each time I have a friend who wants to learn about blogs, I'll just invite them to join this blog and post away!